Before the final plague, the Torah sets out the calendar, announcing the first month in spring. In slavery, there is no distinction between days; each is a grueling succession of labor and harshness. But to be free means to mark time and shape it.

At the very beginning of our journey as a people, God teaches us to create sacred time. The desert may seem eternally the same, but the days themselves will not be. We count by the moon, which changes, waxing and waning, hinting at the fullness to come.

“This is the first month to you” [Exodus 12:2]. Why “to you”? People who are truly free are not controlled by time. Their watches do not become handcuffs. Their lives are not dominated by the frosty ideal of efficiency. They live according to the rhythm of the seasons and the cycle of celebrations. From our first steps to freedom Jews learned that the secret is not to save time, but to sanctify it.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).